Peripheral Artery Disease: Causes & Risk Factors

Experts don't fully understand why plaque builds up in the arteries of the limbs, but agree that people with peripheral artery disease (PAD) tend to demonstrate a combination of habits and conditions. If you don't have symptoms, it's even more important to be aware of your risk factors.

Common risk factors for PAD include:

Age: You have a higher risk for PAD if you're age 50 or older.

Cigarette smoking: If you smoke, or have a history of smoking, your risk for PAD is up to four times greater than that of a nonsmoker.

Diabetes: One in three people over age 50 with diabetes is also likely to have PAD.

High blood pressure: Individuals with high blood pressure are more likely to have plaque in their arteries.

High blood cholesterol: If you have excess fat and cholesterol in your blood, you're more likely to have plaque in your arteries—including those in your legs and arms.

Being overweight or obese: Carrying excess pounds can mean you also have high blood sugar, high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol—all of which are PAD risk factors as well as risk factors for other PAD risk factors.

Physical inactivity: Not exercising can contribute to risk factors that increase your likelihood of developing PAD.

Personal history of vascular disease, stroke or heart attack: People with heart disease have a one-in-three chance of also having PAD.

Ethnicity: African Americans are more than twice as likely to develop PAD as white Americans.